Tess of the D’Urbervilles is set in the late 19th century England, in an area called Wessex. Tess and her family live in a village named Marlott. Tess Durbeyfield, the protagonist, is an innocent girl who suffers throughout the novel and never seems to find lasting happiness. The first phase of the book is called The Maiden. The novel begins with her father, Jack Durbeyfield, discovering that he is descended from the ancient family, the D’Urbervilles, and he goes off to celebrate at a nearby pub. Tess, contrastingly, is participating in the May Dance, a dance by walking-club females to celebrate the hundreds of years of walking. The walking club is like a sisterhood of sorts. Tess is introduced to the readers as a pure girl with a “mobile peony mouth and large innocent eyes”. She is depicted as child-like in beauty with her “twelfth year in her cheeks or her ninth year sparkling from her eyes and even her fifth year would flit over the curves of her mouth now and then”. To further exaggerate their innocence, all the girls participating in the May Dance are wearing white frocks and carrying white flowers. White is the color of purity and it emphasizes the theme of innocence. Among the spectators of the dance are three boys, one of whom dances with some of the girls and as he’s leaving, catches the eye of Tess. This boy, we later come to discover, is Angel Clare.
When Tess returns home, her mother runs to gather her father from the pub. Tess is left to manage the household with her younger siblings and as the night grows darker, and her parents still have not returned, she goes to retrieve them. Her father has a delivery in the morning and it cannot be late. Seeing as her father is drunk and nowhere near sober, she volunteers to go, with the aid of her brother Abraham. On the way, Abraham falls asleep and Tess follows soon after. She is awoken by colliding with another cart. Prince, their single horse, is killed. Tess blames herself and her mother uses this guilt to persuade her to make contact with their relations a few days later.
Tess, regrettably naïve, treks across the countryside to The Slopes, the area in which the D’Urbervilles lived. She is shocked at how new the mansion looks. She encounters Alec D’Urberville, Mrs. D’Urbervilles son and overseer of the household, and tells him her family tale. He is enchantingly flirty and gives her a tour of the mansion, going as far to stuff her basket and top of her dress with roses. She must leave soon thereafter to catch her trolley back home. Her mother receives a letter from the ill Mrs. D’Urberville, who says she wants Tess to look after her little fowl-farm. The handwriting is suspiciously too neat and Tess declines. However, a visit from Mr. D’Urberville inquiring about Tess’s status as an employee prompts Mrs. Durbeyfield, Tess’s mother, to send Tess to work for their relations.
A carriage led by Alec D’Urberville is sent to transport Tess. On the way back to the D’Urberville mansion, Alec...